Saturday, 15 May 2010

1,000 families a week face eviction

One of the many crimes of New Labour was its enthusiastic continuation of the Tory assault on council housing. In this city, and especially in inner city wards like Sparkbrook, Labour’s failure has compelled thousands to suffer the despair of living in overcrowded conditions and the frustration of spending years on the council’s housing waiting lists. As a result of the lack of affordable housing, many have reluctantly have been forced into the housing market. But with unemployment increasing, the number of families unable to meet mortgage repayments are rising, and so are evictions.

In 2009 there were 48,000 homes repossessed by the banks and building societies and the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) is currently forecasting that will rise this year, with over 1,000 families a week being thrown out of their homes. The housing charity Shelter and the Council of Mortgage Lenders are jointly calling on the new ConDem government to extend the Homeowners' Mortgage Support (HMS) scheme introduced by the last government.

The HMS scheme should be supported. It may have helped tens of thousands of families stay in their homes. With government financial support lenders are encouraged to switch to interest-only loans and extend the life of the mortgage to lower payments. If you, a friend or family member is experiencing mortgage difficulties, find out if you can access the HMS scheme on the DirectGov website.

But the scheme itself is far too limited. If you are ill, or your income has fallen sharply, or your lender chooses not to participate in the scheme, then tough. You won't get any help. It's all for the lender to decide. This is a scandalous situation. Remember, we now own a big chunk of banks like RBS and Lloyds and all their various subsidiaries. And there is not a bank or building society which would now be in business without the government guarantees on deposits. The government's power over the banks should be used to compel them and the building societies to offer much better terms to borrowers with genuine needs who get into difficulties.

Currently there are over 260,000 mortgage borrowers across the country who are in arrears of 3 months or more, the majority worried about the nightmare of losing their homes. The previous government did make an effort to ensure that some people did not face that catastrophe. The stamp duty holiday and lower VAT also helped to stave off an even bigger housing crisis. But the effects were limited. And nothing was done to address the desperate problems of council house shortage. Investment in a council house building programme would free families trapped on housing waiting lists, and it could help bring back into employment the one third of a million builders currently unemployed.

The new government's plans to cut public spending will only reduce incomes and increase unemployment further- making the problems of the housing market even worse. Bankers in the City of London are reported to be delighted by the election outcome, with good reason as they will benefit from the planned tax cuts. But a much better, much fairer way is possible.